A distinctly Wyoming scene. (Mike Vanata)

WyoFile writes about Wyoming — its staff and contributors do it well and readers appreciate it. We want to know what’s happening and we worry about this place. We wonder about what lies down the road for a state that at times seems impervious to change just as our foundations rumble under the weight of the inevitable. 

Comments on WyoFile’s articles and opinion pieces reliably prove a point. We are troubled by change — economic, political, cultural, environmental. This has been especially acute during these last few disruptive years. The economy is not strong, and the solutions all seem too controversial or out of reach. 

What seems most frustrating is that so much appears outside our own control. As citizens of a beautiful, special place, we wonder if our destiny is to be forever determined by distant corporate wealth and federal controls. We seem to either celebrate or conspicuously ignore the former while ceaselessly chafe at the latter. 

For example, the biggest news for the state recently is that billionaires are interested in building a nuclear energy facility here, and yet we spend more time talking about the pause in federal energy extraction permits. Wyoming is a place we feel compelled to jealously protect, but we want to use it to our advantage, if only we knew how. It raises questions. Can we preserve what we love about Wyoming but balance it with doing what we must to survive or even thrive?

King Coal looks like he’s in his death throes. Wind and now nuclear power are storming the castle. State leaders are working hard to prop up an industry that seems past its prime. Even if some of the efforts succeed, the determination of our governors and legislators won’t produce an economic time machine. The waves of change are building in the U.S. 

Beyond the energy economy, newly relocated remote workers, a large number of retirees and other migrants are squeezing our already choked housing markets in the West. Economics are unsentimental and bring serious challenges to Wyoming’s doorstep.

If that’s the way it’s going, can it be that the most valuable resources we have beyond uranium and Bitcoin laws are a tax shelter and rural “escape” for retirees fleeing California, Colorado’s Front Range and other areas? I for one would like to see at least as many young families move here as retirees, and both in manageable numbers. 

Nobody wants Wyoming to be the Florida of the West, or their town to be the next Boise (nothing per$onal). Retirees and people relocating in general aren’t bad, but if they move here in large numbers and pay no additional taxes to increase revenue, there are questions. How will we keep up with the demands on our infrastructure and already struggling healthcare system? New residents and out-of-state money can do real and hard-to-reverse damage to our environment, culture and ways of life. Without a real plan we won’t be able to manage it, not even close. 

Reader comments by recently arrived residents from other states or those scouting us because they too no longer care for their environs are of interest to WyoFile’s audience. 

We wonder: Why Wyoming? Why now? What are you looking for here? This is not intended as hostility, but many of us remember the Front Range of just 20 years ago and this raises concerns. Let’s talk about it.

I ask for my own reasons. I’m a fourth-generation native of the state, which makes me part of the less than 50% of the Wyoming-born population that lives here. I’ve lived in the Bighorn Basin where ag is still an actual industry, in the southwest where they extract energy and longest in the southeast where we export people. My grandfather was a farmer, my dad worked in the energy industry and my mom did a bit of everything. I love Wyoming and believe it is unique. I think many of us believe that. Can we keep it that way?

I’m just slightly above the median age in Wyoming and neither a baby boomer nor a millennial. That puts me in another demographic minority. I mention these maligned generations for a reason. Yes, they always help stoke the culture war clickbait, but through sheer numbers alone both will play a big role in the future of the West. 

After a year of turbulence in other parts of our America, we see many of each group are becoming eager to live their “best life” elsewhere and Western states like Wyoming look like appealing places to do it. 

It’s clear what we offer them: Lower taxes and home prices, less congestion and nicer Instagram backgrounds. My question is, how will they strengthen our state? Each group is tens of millions strong and mobile. We’re the least-populated state in the troubled union. This seems worth thinking about. We shouldn’t let our need for economic development outweigh a strong vision for Wyoming. How do we embrace progress and new neighbors while minimizing the impacts to our fragile ecology and communities? 

In many ways the energy economy allowed us to avoid not just taxation but also conversations about land and water development, population demographics, the true potential and costs of new economic activity and how they fit into the larger narrative of Wyoming and our future. 

Critics and defenders of this strange and wonderful place are accurate in what they say. We’re an outdoor destination, but view 21st-century environmental concerns skeptically. We want a full range of amenities and services but prize our low populations and low taxes. We like our geography but despise being perceived as “fly-over country.” 

Wyoming has mixed feelings about itself and its future. We have economic problems, and we’re growing slowly today, but if you look just a little bit ahead you can see over the horizon. If this seems a little preemptive today, I don’t think it will in 2031. It seems like a voice from the past is posing a challenge to us: like it or not, the growth is coming. Will it be “growth on our terms?” 

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So, what are our terms? I wrote this to pose questions, but I will take a risk and guess at the thinking of Wyomingites. Wyoming isn’t hard to read if you know the language. 

We know we need new blood, but can’t see how populating the state with retirees and the sparkling of a few celebrities meets that need. We welcome newcomers, but there are reservations. We don’t want to just be a playground state for the wealthy to own second summer homes and contribute little. Can they bring a few jobs? We welcome visitors and tourists, but again there are reservations. We don’t want the parks so crowded that they bear almost no resemblance to our childhood memories. We don’t want to see other people every time we try to enjoy an outdoor activity. That isn’t the Wyoming experience. 

This isn’t just griping. Recent upticks in outdoor recreation resulted in Wyoming state parks absorbing a 34% increase in visitation equating to 1.8 million more visitors. What costs to our struggling state budget were incurred by that? How did you like the closure of rest stops last year? How many unfortunate Yellowstone human/wildlife exchanges are too many? How do we find the balance? 

This isn’t philosophical. We probably don’t want a stagnant economy that sinks us with lumps of coal and a drill bit tied around our necks. So what do we want? 

We want a future for Wyoming that has a functional economy, strong education system, fiercely independent political landscape, successful family-owned agriculture, spacious recreation and a good life for ourselves and our families. 

Another truism is nobody gets everything he or she wants in life, but will we be able to have any of these? 

It doesn’t look good. It seems like we’re stumbling around in the dark. People in this state need to start really talking to each other and setting the agenda. If we really are a “small town with long streets,” it’s time for a town meeting. 

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  1. A terribly vague and rambling article that epitomizes the very problems facing Wyoming today – inexperienced and misguided local leaders posing more questions than answers.

  2. Same discussion Wyoming has had for years with a few new wrinkles. Why are useless “retirees” moving to Wyoming? As a former Wyoming resident who went South to the Front Range, I can tell you why ..Like the guy who inspected my Dubois cabin who’d moved from Colorado to Thermopolis told me ” Colorado is becoming too much like California..” There are plenty of bitter conservatives in this increasingly liberal more youthful and prosperous state where the Republican party is all but extinct, And they are longing ” To get back Red. ” ( And ,yes ,escape the horrible traffic) Also , as the writer noted, Wyoming real estate is way cheaper as are it’s property taxes, there is no state income tax, and guns are a poppin whereas we, a state that has suffered many mass shootings, just put in about six more “sensible” gun laws. So when natives bemoan what the newcomers might not contribute what they do offer is an enhanced assurance of conservative politics. Which I’m not sure Wyoming needed to begin with .

    1. I appreciate your perspective on why conservatives are choosing Wyoming. You are right. People want to live somewhere quiet. They want to live where corruption and Antifa and the homeless don’t dictate their standard of living. We came from the former Golden State. Fortunately we escaped before Covid. California is literally doomed by the one Party government that lacks any morals or ethics to limit its lawless behavior. There will never be a bullet train in California. There was never going to be. It was just a hustle to scam the people out of more cash. SEIU, the teachers’ unions and the prison guards’ union run the state. Every 3 years there is a tax increase for the schools. The teachers get raises and the admin staff grows…and the test scores and literacy rates get worse. But… It’s for the children…
      Sorry. No it’s not.
      Every 3 years there is a tax increase to fix the crumbling roads and highways. The bureacrats get raises and new jobs get created…and the bridges keep crumbling and the potholes multiply. Today the traffic in the suburbs is as bad as Los Angeles used to be. California voters approved a bond issue in the 1960s to build more reservoirs and update the canal system. Leftists blocked the projects. Climate Change was not yet in the marketing plan of the Party.
      Finally…
      Mass shootings primarily happen in states with “sensible” gun laws. Most shooters are democrats, who the FBI allow to aquire weapons in spite of background checks that should have flagged them, and who like to target victims in gun free zones created by democrats.
      An armed society is a polite society. And a safer one.
      I hope this gives you a bit more to chew on. I was a Democrat once.
      It’s like alcoholism. You have to first admit you have a problem.

        1. Our Constitution was written to govern a moral society.
          No other society would function, per our founders.
          The Taliban is disarming the public and taking other rights away..
          That is what immoral leaders do.
          That is also why Washington is currently dysfunctional.
          Where the people fear the government there is tyranny.
          Where the government fears the people there is liberty.
          Without liberty, the economy flounders and falls to pieces.

  3. I can’t say enough good things about this article and the comments by many wise people that follow.
    Thank You Wyofile and Thank You Paul.
    My comment is to give Wyoming natives an idea of who we newcomers are.
    My wife and I are in the same age group as Paul. I think of us as Tweeners.
    Not quite Boomers and not quite Gen Xers.
    We left California just prior to November of 2019, just missing the coming of Covid and landing in Torrington as our first residence in Wyoming. This was a small enough city to let us adjust to the quiet life here, but still with the amenities of restaurants and shopping we were used to in our previous life.
    Why Wyoming? We just retired early. We wanted a low cost of living and we wanted a slower pace.
    We told our families where we were going and they told us we were nuts.
    We would freeze and be back in a year. OK, they were right on the first point.
    Well… we are looking forward to another winter and we couldn’t be happier.
    We finally settled in Crook County. Close enough to make stores a short drive away, but far enough to see the stars at night and listen to the wind in the trees.
    Folks in California are too busy making money to pay bills to stop and look at the stars at night.
    And the noise and soot from the traffic makes it impossible to sit on the porch and enjoy the wind.
    What we have is what they used to have. We have Mayberry. They have 20 kinds of fast food.
    As a kid, my dad took us clamming at Pismo Beach. There are no more clams there today.
    The other day I saw two kids riding their bikes to the local store. I was moved.
    But by the time I was in middle school it was too dangerous to ride your bike more than a block, in fact it was too dangerous to leave it in your own driveway unattended. I lost a bike that way.
    We researched for two years before we settled on Wyoming.
    We wanted low taxes, low crime, and a peaceful atmosphere.
    We also found low cost of healthcare, and friendly neighbors.
    We can market our state to people who want just that.
    Don’t assume we don’t shop either.
    We support our local stores.
    We also voted for the Penny Tax.
    There are some great suggestions in the comments below.
    But I want to make one.
    Why doesn’t Wyoming have a home grown windmill manufacturer?
    Are you aware that most of the subsidized manufacturers are turning out crap and making money?
    Do you know how many of those huge monstrosities fail almost immediately and wind up in landfills?
    I’m talking entire windmills, blades and all.
    It’s a disgrace. Wyoming could own that market with the right ideas and the right business plan.
    I welcome that conversation, because I think we have a goldmine in wind-power in our state.
    We just need to hit all the right buttons and get our miners building windmills.

  4. Wyoming is going to hit by climate change, specifically the 20 year mega-drought that’s hit 95% of the western US and 95% of Wyoming (US Drought Monitor) and the drought isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

    That’s the bad news. The good news is the clean energy transformation that’s about to occur in the US, In 2020, renewable energy sources generated about 15% of the electricity in Wyoming, with wind power accounting for four-fifths of the state’s renewable electricity. That can increase dramatically as Wyoming has some of the greatest wind resources in the nation, especially in the southeastern corner of the state. Clean energy is now cheaper than any form of energy in history and it’s prices will continue to plummet every year until it’s
    “essentially free” by 2030 (financial times.com, UBS, utility dive.com, rethinkx.com).

    Clean energy jobs can replace coal jobs. They don’t require college degrees or extensive training, but they will pay union wages with good benefits and be local and permanent and there will be lots of them (Stanford University’s solutions project.org). Clean energy will also cut health costs by about 2% of most states’ GDP
    as pollution drops.

    All those new clean energy workers will pay taxes, ending the “no new taxes” dilemma which occurs when a state is losing workers. Wyoming needs to focus on its future in regard to climate change and clean energy.
    Take if from a resident in a state that already has.

    1. “They don’t require college degrees or extensive training, ”

      It is imperative that Wyoming residents get an education and not depend upon “union” jobs. It can be a college degree or votech training. Unions are dying but they do offer a good career path with paid training for some.

      We have several problems on our education front. The most glaring is the low graduation rate for community college which does most of the vo-tech training and is closer to most students in terms of need and location. Add its high cost relative to the disappointing salaries commanded by those coming out of our community colleges.Check out the low “paid-in-full” return rate. We really need to rethink how we provide post-secondary education to those most in need and outside of UW. Our state has to do better.

  5. How George Mickelson did it in South Dakota:
    Some years back South Dakota had a progressive Governor named George Mickelson who initiated a very successful economic development plan. I t was simple, South Dakota imposed an additional 1/2% sales tax until $40,000,000 was raised for an economic development fund. Businesses were required to put up the first 50% of the funding for a new project and the State would loan the next 50% at 4%. As the loans were repaid the money went right back into the revolving fund so it could be lent out again. After the first $40,000,000 was raised by the sales tax it automatically expired so that it did not become a permanent increase in taxes. Most small towns in SD had at least one new business startup this way. Very simple and effective. Them simple rabbit chokers in SD did it – why can’t we???

  6. Yes, I moved here, but not just to retire. I brought my aerospace company with me and struggle to keep the dream alive. I sold my patents for 10% of a new partnership that includes top leaders from NASA and the shuttle program. I may wind up just being retired because there has been zero support in Wyoming. I even offered CAD lessons to schools and 4H STEM programs to stir engineering interest. It seems like the political powers are determined to die with coal, oil, and covid 19. Colorado has booming aerospace industries near the border and some would like to avoid the problems of Denver. I have a new corporation and we are still pushing to find support. It may require some adjustment of mind set in cheyenne though.
    David Luther
    Luther Engineering Design.
    https://exospace.wordpress.com/2019/11/08/wyoming-aerospace/

  7. Your opinion piece is OK. Basically it focuses on the thought that we should talk about in Wyoming.

    Taxes: If this were a selling point, we would be flooded with businesses that like the low income taxes. Quite frankly we do not market our tax position well. I do not see the business council traveling to high tax states and visiting desirable companies armed with spreadsheets that are loaded with the taxes of said company’s current location and what the cost of operation would be in Wyoming. And even then, most companies are looking for something else. Do we market clean air and water, great vistas and an OK public education. Apparently not. We have gotten a lot of businesses to move to Wyoming because we are pro-gun. There is nothing wrong with that, it just shows that taxes are not the selling point.

    Education: This is a selling point. We rate really high for education finance, but we are middle of the pack based on actual outcomes (scores). Education is NOT just an issue of learning for the whippersnappers. It is an economic issue. Consider 2 states, Utah and Louisiana. Utah passed a bill for unfettered charter schools in the 1990’s. Since then the economy has boomed with medical and high tech firms moving to Utah. It isn’t a secret. People want good schools. Ask any real estate agent what the top 10 questions are from someone wanting to move to Wyoming. “What are the schools like?” is the first 9 questions. Choice in schools is an economic diversity issue. Plain and simple. Not hard to figure out when you look at Louisiana, where public schools were wiped out by nature. Hurricane Katrina wiped the facilities off the map. Charter schools were forced to pop-up like popcorn and their economy has done far better than ours because of a natural disaster. Wyoming needs to find it’s way into an education environment not dominated solely by public schools. Be the Choice state… School Choice, Parental Choice, Educational Choice… call it whatever you want, it will be great economic development.

    Higher education: This is a mess. Not hard to see. Look down on our University from space. Open up Google Earth and compare UW with any other land grant university in America. UW is surrounded by hotels and fast food joints. Take the nearby CSU, surrounded by innumerable businesses founded by faculty as well as other firms like, Intel, Woodward Governor, HP, and a ton of companies that are there specifically to recruit talent from CSU. There is a quality/cultural problem at UW that needs fixing. We subsidize mediocrity. And the University competes for state dollars rather than for quality students and faculty.

    The energy economy: This is simple. The country wants and needs energy, including fossil fuels. Yet Wyoming has a mismatch between the market for energy and the production of energy. Why? We tax energy in the wrong places. We tax what comes out of the ground at its lowest economic value. Our biggest value of energy being exported to other states is electricity followed by natural gas. Taxing electricity that goes to the grid versus coal that comes out of the ground would primarily export our taxes to states like California that want to charge cars with ancient utility lines that look like the red hot wires in your toaster. Yes they are dumb in California. Tax their stupidity. Taxing coal that comes out of the ground taxes our miners and mining companies. Tax electricity. Of course, it might raise our rates as well. We can fix that. Our constitution has embedded in it, a right to the “genius of a free enterprise system”, Article 1 , Section 30 according to my, signed by Ed Buchanan, constitution. Texas allows competition between utilities. Galveston Island for instance has about 5 electric utilities. In Cheyenne, I can only have one. Same with Cable…only one, land lines… yup just one. Anything regulated by the Public Service Commission is generally a monopoly. Let the competition flow and the costs fall. Cheering for the commodity resource coming out of the ground is cheering for a boom/bust economy. We should not care if it is uranium. coal. natural gas, thermal, dams, oil, butane, propane, because energy is part of a vibrant national economy. And we have all of these resources.

    Finally, people are moving to Wyoming because they are escaping states that don’t want them and the feeling is mutual. They are coming here in part because of our politics. So republicans should be republicans and stop growing the government. People coming to Wyoming want the pull yourself up by the bootstraps independence that could be Wyoming. They like little to no crime. They like our freedoms. Keep that.

    You wanted a discussion, let’s start it!

    1. In a list of some of the best comments on one of the best articles I have read in a long time, yours is really outstanding. You hit all the buttons we need to hit to really get this conversation moving.
      I will write my own comment next.
      Thank You for an inspiring read.

  8. Excellent piece! Many folks across the state are talking about these very topics. This is a very timely call to action.

    Our state leaders are tethered to a political party that does not live in the real world. They are not calling for a new direction. They are not even articulating a positive future. They seem determined to burn their party to the ground before acknowledging reality, to hell with consequences.

    Wyoming needs to talk about its future, but many leaders are stuck in the past. However, there are still community leaders who care about where they live and work. There are still community leaders who are passionately providing education, law enforcement, and other public services. There are still MANY individuals who care more about local residents than Washington politics.

    We community conversations. We need to focus on people, not corporations. We need to talk about our needs, not theirs. I believe those conversations are happening right now. And it is just a matter of time before we see some new leaders stand up to demand that people and communities come first.

    Enough politics. Let’s move forward with what real people really care about.

  9. A well written and thoughtful article. Except for a couple of out of state college tours I have lived in Wyoming all my life. For the last twenty years or so I have watched our individual legislators try to be further to the right than the next guy. “No new taxes” has been shouted from the top of the capitol dome for years. But they are not able to cut costs enough to get out of this financial fix. But they are locked into to this “No new taxes” mind set, and insist that the financial mess can be fixed with “incremental steps”. It can’t be, we need immediate action.

  10. Climate change is the monster in Wyoming. Fossil fuels are on the way out. Will our legislature keep up? Apparently not. Europe recorded its highest temperature ever this week gone are the days of debating. Whether you believe or not is immaterial at this point. Markets determine our future not opinions. We must clearly look to the future of our economies devoid of energy extraction. Where does that leave us? The tourist/service industries are growing so that is a start but not enough. A town meeting is needed indeed. g

  11. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection on where Wyoming is heading. The time is gone for us to continue moving forward with our heads in the sand; change is coming whether we want it or not and we need to be proactive about the change. While I am a transplant to Wyoming, I have been here now for almost 15 years and have chosen to make Wyoming my home. I am consistently confused by the hostility by some to newcomers. If we have chosen to be Wyomingites instead of just by accident of birth, why should our views and beliefs be worth less?

  12. You’re asking the essential question, one that many of us have grappled with for years: so, what DO we want? I see an abundance of differences when it comes to answering this query. Part of this problem has to do our new residents. Many come packing the idea that taxes – all taxes – are bad. They arrive expecting tax valhalla and are fighting to keep it that way. Of course, this idyll can’t last. Secondly, answering “what do we want,” means we have to balance between “our way of life,” and the creating a better lives of our children. Right now, the former is winning the ideological battle.

  13. What a well-written and incisive article. So happy to know that you are in a leadership position in a state to which you are clearly committed. Thank you!

  14. These are all good questions and ones that we have been debating in the Big Horn Basin. I was born in Laramie, but my dad was in the oil business so we lived in LA. TX, Alberta, and The Netherlands. My wife and I moved back to WY in 2016 to a house we built in 2001. My question is why have we not tried to bring in Data Centers as they take land (we have a lot), they pay well and have skills to keep young people here, and use electricity which we have, and pay taxes. No one wants to see our state taken over by other states ideas of what we should be. My neighbors from CO and CA came here to have a life they once had in those states. A couple of bad winters may cull the herd of those who just like the scenery but do not want to stay and work. Change is inevitable and I fear some of our legislatures do not want change they want to keep Coal which is a resource but not the only resource we have. There are other good ideas but lets just start some dialog about what is best for the state and all its citizens and be prepared to move forward in a thoughtful and deliberate manner so we do not have 60% of our graduates move out of state to start their career. . .

  15. Very good article! Yes, we do need to have an honest discussion about Wyoming’s future when it comes to changes in our economy and how we will adjust socially to increased visitations or welcoming new neighbors!

    We felt much more in control when our economy was in the boom cycle. We felt we could confront change better or at least use our economic strength to mitigate possible problems.

    But that too has CHANGED!